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South Africa camps
Rocktail Bay Lodge
update - November 08 Jump
to Rocktail Bay Lodge
Few people remember to visit the beach at night when on a seaside vacation. Being on the beach on a warm summer night, being cooled by a fresh salty breeze and seeing moonlight reflect off the waves makes it so special. The uncertainty of what is around you in the darkness makes one's senses perk up, yet the sound of the perpetual wave action soothes the mind. One does not normally associate the beach with large animals, the bush yes and the open ocean most certainly, but occasionally our beaches get a special large visitor: sea turtles.
Yes, the turtle season is upon us and turtle nesting is in full swing. The research team that leaves Rocktail Bay Lodge every night has recorded a number of 'nestings' and accompanying guests have been treated to great sightings and experiences. South African waters have five of the world's seven turtle species but only two of them nest on our beaches. The loggerhead turtle is the smaller of the two but it grows at a slower rate. The females returning to our beach to nest were in all probability born on the same beach and have returned after 30 or so years to nest for the first time after leaving as tiny hatchlings. The much larger leatherback turtles grow quicker and return after only 9-12 years for their first nesting. The leatherbacks are less common worldwide and our beach is therefore very special in that they can not only be seen, but seen nesting and hatching. The size of the leatherbacks is always surprising. The tracks left by these huge Chelonians look as if a tractor has driven up the beach.
Spectacled Weaver (left) – Grey Waxbill (right)
In November, turtle monitors Gugulethu and Mbongeni recorded a total of 66 loggerhead nests and 17 leatherback nests. They have tagged and microchiped 34 loggerhead and seven leatherback turtles during the month. The largest leatherback recorded for the month was a mammoth 170cm along the back of the shell and 140cm across. So far six previously tagged loggerhead turtles were seen but no previously tagged leatherbacks have returned yet this season.
Birding has been good this November with just about all the migratory birds returning. The residents have been performing as spectacularly as usual and we had a special sighting of a Green Malkoha in the car park again and this time managed to photograph it and its plasticine-yellow bill.
Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird (left) – Black-bellied Starling (middle) – Green Malkoha (right)
Despite this, the sheer diversity of forest birds at the bird hide in the heat of the day has been the biggest highlight. Watching the business and obvious hierarchy that exists around a 'prime spot' is fascinating. A young female African Goshawk seems to be making a daily appearance at the bird hide not to drink or bath but to try ambush some of the smaller visitors. An interesting tussle between the Goshawk, a Purple-Crested Turaco and a lot of little helpers was witnessed up above the bird hide with the Goshawk eventually being driven off.
A large Twig/Vine/Bird Snake has also been seen around camp often in the last few weeks. The cryptic colouration and behaviour of this snake makes for fascinating viewing once it is finally spotted.
The lovely forest butterflies have just started to reappear but not yet in any great number. There have however been an unusually large number of beautifully coloured hairy caterpillars fattening themselves up on the lush forest vegetation. Pupation is next for them so perhaps they will be emerging in full force in December.
Pafuri Camp update - November 08 Jump
to Pafuri Camp
General game is still as good as ever with plenty of zebra congregating around Pafuri Camp and abundant warthog, impala, nyala and greater kudu. While the elephant herds seem to have left us on their seasonal movements, bulls are still occasionally seen along Luvhuvu East, Luvuvhu West, Rhino Boma and Lala-Palm Windmill. Huge herds of buffalo are seen mostly on the Limpopo floodplains, and the two resident bulls are of course seen daily at Pafuri Camp where they while away the heat of the day in the shallows of the Luvuvhu River.
We saw lions every second day this month. A pride consisting of one male, two lionesses and a single cub were the most often seen grouping and were located mostly in the Luvuvhu West area. Another grouping of two sub-adults were seen mostly along Luvuvhu East and the access road to Pafuri Camp. Leopard sightings declined after the bumper viewing of the dry season months and we had only five sightings of this elusive cat. Spotted hyaena - although heard from camp most nights - were seen on only three occasions.
The resident white rhinos were for the most part seen on foot after displays of exceptional tracking abilities by Abednigo Masuku. On one occasion the new calf was encountered. On two occasions game drives encountered these animals while in the vehicle en route to Lanner Gorge.
The carcass of a male Ostrich was located on the 2nd of November on Rhino Boma Road. We presume it was killed by a leopard and indeed a leopard was later seen feeding on this unusual prey species. Ostrich are very uncommon in the Makuleke Concession and it is only recently that we have had any sightings of this species. It is presumed that the large fires a couple of months back further south in Kruger, coupled with the extended dry season have resulted in their entry into the area.
A giraffe was also seen on Rhino Boma Road. It has been some time since we have seen giraffe in the area and we speculate that this individual has crossed from Zimbabwe.
On the 16th of the month, Abednigo, Enos and Jonson were tracking rhino when they encountered drag marks. They followed these and located a hyaena den and the remains of a nyala bull carcass, but no sign of any hyaena. They moved on and then spotted an aardvark in a shallow hole. As this seldom seen nocturnal animal heard them he started digging deeper to hide. The three guides captured some video footage and showed it to guests later that day as proof. As if this was not enough, they then moved on and found three white rhino.
Birding has been good this month and many migratory birds have come back. Specials species such as Racket-tailed Roller (as well as their nests) and Three-banded Courser have been shown to guests.
The concession is still very dry, with not much green grass yet. With a bit of rain received, most trees are blossoming and growing new leaves.
The month has been very hot with the highest maximum temperature of 47°C. On most days the maximum temperature ranged between 31-45°C. There were a few cooler days of 28°C maximum.
Rain: On the night of the 12th we received 43.9mm of rain and that was the only good rains of the month. On the 13th and 14th we also received just over 2mm of rain each day.
Camp update - November 08 Jump
to Toka Leya
The summer season is in full swing here: the flowers are blooming, new luminous leaves are budding, the antelope are dropping their calves, and the great Mosi-oa-Tunya is slowly starting to "smoke" again.
At the beginning of November, the ground around the camp was so dry it was cracked, and the bush was brown and sparse, but that all changed in a matter of days. We could almost see the change happen in front of our eyes. Our first large rains came on around the 6th of November, and believe us when we say the heavens opened. It was awesome, lightning, thunder, wind, and buckets of rain - everything that makes up a truly awesome storm. Since then we estimate that we have had more than 450mm of rain with some very memorable storms. Afternoon and evening downpours are greeted the following morning with all the new scents of the bush wafting around the lodge, the bush looking brighter, and the birds chirping - this is summer in Africa!
We also estimate that the vast Zambezi River has risen just over 0.75 metres in just the past couple of weeks. We are slowly seeing the rocky islands in the middle of the river disappearing, and all the channels around the back of camp are all of a sudden raging down with water.
The rain and stormy weather have not hindered our guests from enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park and surrounding areas. Game viewing and bird watching has been as good as ever, with our guests having some amazing sightings during their stay with us.
One memorable game drive a group of our guests got to see two giraffes entangled - almost literally - in a battle. They witnessed the two giraffes in a behaviour called necking, which is where the giraffes basically try and hit each other with their necks, horns and heads to try and deliver the hardest blow, and the weaker one should then back off. Our guests watched the battle for over half an hour, where eventually after one final blow by the larger male, the weaker bolted off into the bush. We have also had our resident herd of buffalo in camp almost every night. Some of our guests actually woke up to their room shaking, only to find that a male buffalo had decided to use one of the poles holding up the deck as a scratching post!
The birding around camp has also been very productive, with species such as Giant and Woodland Kingfishers, Broad-billed and Lilac-Breasted Rollers, Bennet's Woodpecker, Striped Cuckoo and Red-billed Woodhoopoes being seen amongst the new foliage. We have been seeing Bateleurs and Black-chested Snake-Eagles soaring overhead. While out on the river the bird life never ceases to amaze, with our guests and boat captains arriving back at camp raving about seeing the African Finfoot, probably one of the more secretive species found in Africa. Besides this beautiful bird, we have also been seeing plenty of African Skimmers skim the top of the water - they just look so graceful.
Activity-wise, the Livingstone Island tour has been a huge hit with our visitors. Many of them have opted to either walk or boat to get onto Livingstone Island, where they can indulge in either a breakfast lunch or high tea. The highlight for most is the swim in Devil's Pool, which is right at the edge of the Falls, and it is probably the most incredible infinity pool that anyone can ever imagine. Another popular activity this month has been the white water river rafting. With the water levels rising, the rapids have become just that much more fun, and our guests have come back from these day outings absolutely exhausted, but raving about their day.
Some other interesting news is that Toka Leya is the proud new owner of a worm farm, the first for any camp of Wilderness Safaris Zambia. Staying with the theme of going green, the concept of the "wormery" as it is called, is to get rid of the vegetable and paper waste that is generated at camp. In return for this food, the worms create a kind of liquid, which we call 'worm tea', which is then used as a type of compost. This tea will be used in our nursery, to assist in getting our little indigenous saplings ready to be planted around the camp.
And just when we thought the month could not get any better, what should we find in the national park that we call our home? A pack of four wild dogs! Some of our staff members saw them on a drive one morning, and apparently it looks like they are going to stay in the area. Unfortunately no photos... yet, but we will be sure to post them!
We have had guests come from all over the world this month, and this is what some of them had to say about a beautiful hide-away on the banks of the Zambezi:
"A wonderful experience in this beautiful part of Africa." - ML, South Africa
"We had a wonderful time at your new camp. It's a beautiful set up with great people and great service. Thank you so much for everything! - HH, AH, GD & MD, Holland
"Very comfortable camp, excellent food and friendly staff." - AT & ET, Switzerland
"A great place to end a wonderful safari." - NM & EM, Scotland
"Wonderful food, friendly staff, great management, fun all the way around. Will be in our memories forever." - BL & CL, U.S.A
We have so much to look forward to in the coming month of December. We wish you all a safe holiday season and a great New Year's party, and you will hear from us again in 2009,
-The Toka Leya Team-
River Club update - November 08 Jump
to The River Club
Work to upgrade the two honeymoon chalets, Livingstone and Rhodes, has started and will be completed by 16 December 2008. Both chalets are having new bathrooms fitted, a sundeck built and a large splash pool installed (which can be heated in the winter).
The River Club closed to guests on 30 November for the annual maintenance programme to be undertaken. All chalets have had new showers installed during this period.
A bushbuck family has been seen around the perimeter fence, and hippo were seen mating in the river by Rhodes Chalet!
Simonga Village Project Update
November was a busy month for Simonga, with a substantial donation made to the Basic School funded by guests from The River Club, totalling fifteen million kwacha! Twelve million of this was spent on mosquito nets, enough for all the 350 school children at Simonga School as well as the 30 elderly villagers. The remaining three million kwacha was spent on pens and pencils and a school bag. (Each child received at least 10 pens and pencils each.)
Simonga Village project manager, Christelle, has worked hard building a relationship with the school PTA (pictured), a group of parents who are the decision makers on who funds are spent. They are the ones who requested that funds be spent in this way. It is hoped that the relationship between Christelle and the PTA will be the impetus for new committees to be formed in the village to involve more villagers in the projects undertaken by The River Club, creating a more democratic and inclusive environment all round.
A new volunteer, Louise, has arrived from the UK to assist with the village projects and her first visit to the village was the donation event mentioned above. Photos of the mosquito net and stationery event can be seen here.
Climate in November
Mean Temperature: 77.2 F (25.1C)
High Mean Temperature: 90.7F (32.6C)
Low Mean Temperature: 66.4F (19.1C)
Mean Monthly Rainfall: 70.4mm (2.9inches) - November is the start of the rainy season.
Relative Humidity (mean value): 55.2%
Ruckomechi Camp update - November 08 Jump
to Ruckomechi Camp
Our rains have started in stops and starts with our first heavy downpour round the 12th of November. The rains have brought the high October temperatures down but the humidity in the early mornings and late afternoon are still well into the 70% mark. The electrical storms are amazing to watch over the Zambian Escarpment as the clouds build up and turn to a dark grey. Rolling thunder can be heard in the late evening with bright flashes of lightning lighting up the night sky. Our heavy rain has come from the south west but our lighter showers have fallen with the prevailing wind. Sunsets are still spectacular and it has been fascinating watching the difference as the hazy skies helped form bright orange skies to deeply formed clouds forming more dramatic sunsets.
Vegetation, Landscape and the Zambezi River
Over the past few weeks, we have watched the surrounding bush change from being very dry and dusty to small green shoots of grass and small trees popping up all over the earth's surface. The rains have rinsed all the trees of dust leaving beautiful green shining leaves. The Zambezi is now a valley of bright colours. The mopane trees have new leaves that are slightly red in colour protecting them from the heat of the midday sun.
A black arum was found in flower on 23 November at the top of the ridge near a dry stream. This interesting little lilly is in the same genus that has the biggest flower in the world in it - Amorphophallus titanium which is found in the Jungles of Sumatra.
Another interesting plant sighting was Aeschynomene elaphraxylon. This aquatic plant was seen, collected and photographed at the Nyakasanga / Zambezi confluence this month. This plant was collected about eight years ago by Alistair at the old Ruckomechi Camp and it was the first record for the country at the time. The original specimen was washed away but this latest specimen is well established. This is a Thorned Aeschynomone which is unusual for this genus.
The Ruckomechi River is flowing, but with the little rain that we have had, has not yet flooded. The Zambezi River itself has started to turn a light shade of brown due to good rains upstream. The river is still rather low at the moment but with promising rains, this should be changing soon.
The probability sightings for this month were as follows:
100% - baboon, impala, vervet monkey, warthog, waterbuck, hippo
60-74% - zebra, elephant,
55-58% - Cape buffalo, eland, kudu
48% - bushbuck
35% - lion, scrub hare
<30% - tree squirrel, large spotted genet, wild dog, spotted hyaena, cheetah, African civet, African wild cat, porcupine, slender mongoose, banded mongoose, large grey mongoose, leopard, nyala.
This month we have been fortunate enough to see cheetah a few times and on one occasion, the female cheetah and her cubs were seen feeding on an impala. On the 10th of November the first baby impala was born just before the rains started and from then on our green land was bouncing with little lambs. Two new male lions were seen recently between the old Ruckomechi Camp and the new site. These male lions are unlike other male lions seen in the Zambezi Valley due to their huge black manes. Hopefully these two will stay in the area and not move too far off our concession.
Our four resident lions were seen heading towards the river, perhaps to drink, when a leopard came running out in front of them and climbed up a nearby tree. The adolescent male lion ran after the leopard and climbed halfway up the tree after the leopard. The game continued for a further ten minutes before the male lion finally gave up and left the tree leaving the leopard balancing on the thin branches at the top of the tree.
Our elephant numbers in and around the camp have dropped dramatically as there is more forage and water for them away from the river. After not seeing any elephants for a few days, four large bulls swam from the Zambian side and stayed in the camp for a couple of hours before moving inland.
Birds and Birding
This month we saw a total of 176 different species.
An Angola Pitta was first seen on the 12th of November by Kevin in the thicket of the Nyakasanga; a stunning and rarely seen bird that had the whole camp hugely excited.
A Lilac-breasted Roller has made a nest in the albida tree above our stores. We have heard what sounds like two chicks calling from the nest. The ever-busy father spends most of his hours dive bombing anything and everything that comes within a short distance of the albida tree.
On the 15th of November Sibs saw and reported our first White Stork sighting for the season. African Emerald Cuckoos and Woodland Kingfishers have now been seen on our concession as well. With most of the rainy season still ahead of us, we wait in anticipation to see which other species will appear. Alistair was fortunate enough to see a Temminck's Courser near the Nyakasanga as well.
"We really had a wonderful time - thanks so much to a fantastic team you have here at Ruckomechi!" - T&MH -W
"Canoe Trip, Expertise of staff - Whole experience on the Zambezi River." - G&MC
The end of the season has arrived quickly this year and we all find ourselves winding down for the off season. All staff have been eager to lend a helping hand as we have started to pack up the camp and prepare ourselves for the rains. The festive spirit is slowly creeping into the air and the majority of the staff is really looking forward to taking their annual leave. All in all, we have had a really good season and have made our new camp a pocket of paradise on the Zambezi River. The guides continue to broaden their knowledge and skills and keep us all up to date with the wildlife news. Julian has spent some time in Hwange, training and helping out with the Children in the Wilderness programme so we look forward to hosting Children in the Wilderness camps at Ruckomechi in 2009.
-The Ruckomechi Team-
Makalolo Plains update - November 08 Jump
to Makalolo Plains Camp
The rains have started and days are cloudy with rain coming unexpectedly. We received 96.5mm this month. As a result temperatures have dropped slightly. In November the highest temperature recorded was 40C while the lowest was 16C.
Vegetation, Landscape and Water
The vegetation as expected at this time of year is lush and green; the air is filled with freshness and smells of the flowering plants. The water levels in the pans have risen and there is water everywhere for the animals and birds.
With the onset of the rains and water and food available everywhere, game has dispersed somewhat. During this period new additions will be added to the animal populations: a wonderful time to see the new generation coming into the cycle of nature. It's a time of plenty for the herbivores, but it can also be a lean time for the bigger predators, even though they have a glut of young animals to prey on.
There are still resident elephant herds in the area, but the bulk of the population appears to have moved out of the area. The big herds of buffalo have similarly split up and smaller groupings are being seen. Large herds of wildebeest and zebra herds are seen daily on the Plains. Lions are seen every day, their numbers are healthy and sightings are many. An African safari would not be the same without seeing the so-called King of Beasts.
Probability sightings for the month of November were:
100%: chacma baboon, common duiker, elephant, hippo, giraffe, impala, black-backed jackal, greater kudu, lion, banded mongoose, springhare, tree squirrel, steenbok, warthog, common waterbuck, blue wildebeest and plains zebra.
81%: white rhino
68%: roan, sable
48%: spotted hyaena
29%: African wild cat
Birds and Birding
We recorded 161 species this month. The summer visitors are arriving daily. The nest building has started and some species like the Kurrichane Thrush have started feeding their young ones.
A Paradise Flycatcher built a nest in the same tree as the Red-headed Weavers. The weavers were not happy with this and destroyed the flycatcher's nest, only for him to build a new one a few trees away. It was not far enough for the weavers, who destroyed it again. He has had no option but to build a distance away.
A few nights ago the Helmeted Guineafowls were disturbed and their alarm calls keep a few light sleepers awake. The next morning, when investigations were completed, the feathers scattered at the base of their roosting tree told us that one of their number was taken by a predator. They have been attacked several times this month, but they still roost in the same tree.
"Makalolo Plains is a beautiful home away from home. The staff is outstanding, thanks to all of you for lovingly caring for us." - RA & GW - USA
"Elephants drinking from the pool, as we lounged beside it, would be hard to beat. The level of care and attention to detail is also remarkable- sometimes it was hard to remember we were deep in the wilderness." - JL & OC - USA
"Rhino walk in the bush, knowledge of staff about so many things, entertainment. Having animals so close to the room when we woke up in the morning, excellent meals." - B&A
Guides: Dickson Dube, Hupu Dube, Raymond Ndlovu, Lawrence Yohane, Godfrey Kunze
Hostess: Belinda McPhail
Management: Amon Johnson
Till next month from The Makalolo Team
Mana Canoe & Walking Trail Safari report - November 08 Jump
to Mana Canoe & Walking Trail Safari
Cumulonimbus clouds teased on the horizon at the beginning of the month, threatening to deliver the precious rain to replenish the dry, dry bush. We were keeping our fingers crossed that the rains would hold back until the end of our trips but the clouds were pushed upon us by strong winds until the refreshing sprinkles of rain could be felt. The rains brought us cooler days and nights much to our appreciation but it did get rather humid with all that moisture in the air.
Vegetation, Landscape and the Zambezi River
With the first sprinklings of rain come new shoots of grass that creep through the overlaying dry leaves and debris of the dry season. As the month progressed the once bare earth is now covered in a green blanket of shoots that include indigofera, senna and albidas. The mopane forests have become a hive of activity as the sounds of cicadas are almost deafening when travelling past. These insects live in the ground and emerge after the first rains. The mopane trees are pleasing to the eye as they all have fresh leaves which bring brilliant greenery to the canopy of the forests.
Just the first drops of rain are enough to give the antelope and elephants a sign that water will be available elsewhere and as a result the game has dispersed into the hills that make up the Zimbabwean Escarpment. The game numbers along the shoreline have decreased but what is left behind did not disappoint. The impala are still in abundance and on our last trip the females were looking heavily pregnant, awaiting the rains later in the month to start in order for them to give birth.
One of the trips this month had some exceptional sightings of wild dogs and lion. The Ruckomechi Pack of 22 dogs were obediently awaiting the eager canoeists at the launch sight on our first day. On the second day at Chessa Campsite another pack of 15 dogs preyed on an unsuspecting waterbuck. Unfortunately we did not get to see the whole chase but heard the noise and went to investigate. By the time we had arrived the pack had almost finished their evening meal. We were very fortunate to see two packs in 24 hours.
On our first night at Vundu Campsite, the guests had just arrived at camp when the nervous giggles of the hyaena started. This continued on throughout the night so it was time to investigate as soon as the dawn greeted us. The guides and guests set out on a walk and approximately 500 metres behind the campsite they came across a pride of lions on a buffalo kill. The pride consisted of male, female and four young cubs. After all the noise from the hyaenas it was surprising to not see a single one lurking in the background.
Chessa Campsite has kept up its reputation for animal sightings throughout the season and on our last trip we had a magnificent elephant bull come through camp to bid us farewell. As the canoeists were approaching the campsite he was crossing the channel in front coming back from the island. This provided the guests some fantastic photo opportunities as they got within a few metres of him.
Birds and Birding
This month we had our first sighting of the African Paradise-Flycatcher for the season. This is yet another migratory bird that is a fairly common sight in summer. The Southern Carmine Bee-eaters are encountering a few difficulties this year as a large number of their colonies have been destroyed by the eroding bank. This has only taken place in the last two months. A fairly uncommon sighting for this month was that of the Western Banded Snake-eagle. This was seen on a walk in Mana Pools. The flocks of Opened-billed Storks approach like a black cloud as they soar over head. This is always rather spectacular watching them from the river's edge. On our last night at Ilala Campsite we were once again greeted in the evening by the pair of African Wood-owls. We had a last laugh over the imaginary conversation between the courting pair.
We come to the end of another successful season and with that we would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and prosperous 2009. To all those who have travelled with us and those still to come, we hope to see you in the future joined by friends and family.
November was the end of our canoeing season and Bryan and Mathew finished the year in high spirits with the last two trips at the beginning of the month. It has been a very successful season - well done to the both of them. The back-up team have also had a fantastic season ensuring that all have a comfortable and memorable stay on the banks of the Zambezi River.
-The Mana Canoe Trails Team-
Images by Caroline Culbert
Desert Rhino Camp update - November 08 Jump
to Desert Rhino Camp
Desert Rhino Camp has enjoyed another exceptional month. The Palmwag Concession, on which our camp is located, certainly represents one of the last true wilderness areas today - a pleasing lack of fences and teeming with desert-adapted wildlife.
The weather has been very erratic the last couple of weeks - cold mornings, very hot in the middle of the day but thankfully with cool nights. Some mornings we could see the coastal fog creeping in from the Atlantic Ocean, bringing some welcoming moisture for the plant life. The Palmwag Concession normally receives rain later in the season, but we were fortunate enough to get a bit of rain already. There is nothing better than the fresh smells after some rain.
The guides with their guests spotted some lions and an African wild cat in the area. The lions also passed through camp in the month, in the evening. A new camp record has been set by Harry Ganuseb and his guests for spotting the most rhino in one day. On a recent full-day activity, Harry spotted 11 different rhino in one day! The previous record was held by Godlob Hawaxab for six in one day.
A couple of weeks ago I drove six Dutch guests from a neighbouring lodge to Desert Rhino Camp. At one of the viewpoints, we made a quick stop. One of the guests got out. He looked at me, smiled and gazed intently at the lanscape. After about five minutes of standing and watching in silence he looked at me again and mustered in his broken English, 'beautiful, simply beautiful'.
We had a German film crew from the VOX Channel in our camp doing a wildlife documentary on the camp and Save the Rhino Trust (SRT). They were very interested in the beautiful Damaraland landscape, but also in the work of SRT in protecting the important black rhinos. With the VOX TV crew we had Namibia's own mountain bike champions, Tokkie Bombosch and Mannie Heymans. Tokkie is one of the cyclists that ride every year through parts of the Damaraland to raise funds for SRT.
With that we greet you from the beautiful Desert Rhino Camp with the following excerpt from a poem by Frank Lloyd Wright: "Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you."
-The Desert Rhino Camp Team-
Skeleton Coast Camp update - November 08 Jump
to Skeleton Coast Camp
During November we have had wonderful sightings and guests have been overwhelmed by seeing everything from a springbok to amazing desert-adapted lions.
One of the most unusual things that happened during November was when one of the younger elephant bulls, mostly frequenting the Hoarusib River, walked across open plains and stopped at about 5km with the Khumib River clearly in sight merely to turn around and head back to the Hoarusib River. Unfortunately nobody saw the elephant, but his footprints tell the whole story.
Gert saw several Lappet-faced Vultures close to the seal colony, which is a very rare sighting on the coast. At the moment it is breeding season at the Cape fur seal colony and the number of the seals has increased twofold. Scavengers like the vultures, jackals and brown hyaena are seen more often now as all the pups are easy prey for most of these animals. Flamingos have also started to migrate from Etosha Pan to Walvis Bay and the guides have seen them close to the seal colony a few times.
Gert and Chris Bakkes recorded a melanistic honey badger close to the canyon area. Although sightings of honey badgers are happening more often, the sighting of an all-black individual is very rare.
We also had incredible sightings of the lions in the Hoarusib River. They are doing a lot of hunting outside the River as most of the game is on the plains now. Our guests never expect to see the lions and are always very surprised to see them on a Skeleton Coast safari! We are still seeing elephants in the Horausib River and our guests always delight in watching these graceful pachyderms, especially in arid areas like this.
Despite the obvious big game like lions and elephant, our guides always like to share their knowledge of the small creatures that live in the desert. On the last morning following a long safari we always try to take guests out on a desert walk and show them insects, geckos, beautiful dancing white lady spiders and the succulent plants that sustain the wildlife here.
It is so hard to describe the landscapes of the Skeleton Coast - one should really be here to experience the vastness, the loneliness and the remoteness - and even then it is still difficult to describe it.
Skeleton Coast has the potential to have four seasons in one day. For the last few weeks, we have enjoyed wonderful weather. On most mornings the fogbank blankets the desert, but it has not been as cold as a few months ago. The first rain drops fell on this dry piece of land by end of October; we have had a few mornings since then when it was a bit overcast. We could even see lightning and hear thunder close to the Khumib catchment area. Who knows, the rivers of the west might come down earlier this year. The prevailing south-westerly wind made some evenings much colder than others; luckily we had some very pleasant evenings and were able to enjoy a dinner under the leadwood tree.
"We feel very privileged to have experienced Mother Nature at her best! A very big thank you to Jonathan, Daleen, Charl and all the staff for sharing their home with us - a truly wonderful 4 days." Derek and Fiona, UK
"We all enjoyed the Skeleton Coast experience tremendously. Great camp, wonderful landscapes, such a variety of activities and adventures! Thank you for the hospitality and your guides deserve particular thanks for making our days here so special." Ireland Family, UK
"You've made a harsh environment soft and so much more beautiful! Thank you from our hearts." Pat and Jeff, Montana, US
Wilderness Safaris went to the opening of the Purros Community Lodge on the 7th of November. One could see how proud the community was to start something of their own. We are planning to take the children of Purros School to the beach by the end of the year - it will no doubt cause loads of excitement.
We would like to thank Kathy H for donating soccer balls to the Purros School. And also thanks to Daniel K and Jacque S for making donations to CITW.
Staff in Camp
Camp Managers: Daleen and Charl
Relief helping out: Hermann
Guides: Gert, Jonathan and Kallie
Gert, Jonathan and Kallie are absolutely fantastic guides. They enjoy each safari just as much as the guests. They make sure the days at Skeleton Coast are packed with lots of adventures and fun. They love sharing their passion for this area and their knowledge with our guests. Jonathan and Kallie recently went on a desert guiding course to expand their knowledge of the area.
Serra Cafema Camp update - November 08 Jump
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November has marked a definite change in season with temperatures soaring up in the high 30 degrees Celsius and even the very first sprinkling of rain arriving on the morning of the 24th. The prevailing wind direction has been SSW, coming in from the coast in the afternoons - cooling things down a bit for siesta time!
The rare Hartmann's mountain zebra have also been fairly often this month. They have been seen on numerous occasions just west of our airstrip. This makes the 45-minute drive to camp just that much more scenic and enjoyable.
A little on the cultural side of things: This month we decided that the prettiest smile certainly belongs to a certain young lady by the name of Maripo. She is one of the local headmen's daughters and is currently living in a settlement near camp. On the blanket in front of her is some of the traditional craft that can be viewed whilst visiting a settlement with your guide.
Also pictured is one of our staff with two hand-crafted Himba dolls; these two certainly give Barbie the earthy edge! They are a fine example of two traditional dolls that the local children craft and then keep through their years.
November also marked a special month in terms of community relations with a letter to the camp from the School Secretary in the next door valley reading: "The Marienfluss School has received many wonderful donations that have helped the children with their education throughout the last year. We would like to thank you for all the kindness and we hope that our link that keeps us all together and the great friendship will stay with us."
Many of our guests have also donated pens, crayons, paper, and balloons over the past year and we want you all to know that the children and teachers really appreciate this. Thank You.
Our beautiful stretch of the Kunene River has been attracting many different bird species. Two White-fronted Bee-eaters have been seen near the palm trees closest to camp. They seem to have taken up residency on the banks at the beginning of October and are still seen while enjoying the boat excursion. This is very exciting for us, as their recorded distribution shows that it is fairly uncommon for them to be spotted this far west. This means that at the moment there are three different species of bee-eater that can be seen around Serra Cafema at the moment: the migratory Madagascar (Olive) Bee-eater, White-fronted and the Little Bee-eater.
The kingfishers have also made their presence known this month, with the Giant Kingfisher making a swooping appearance at the rapids just in front of Tent 7 and a little, albeit slightly stunned, Malachite Kingfisher, being rescued by Muhenje just after sunset. The Pied Kingfisher though, seems to have moved east for now. Other river residents include Goliath Heron and the bubbling calls of White-browed Coucals are often heard. Common birds in the albida trees around camp include Pririt Batis, Long-billed Crombec and Pale-winged Starlings.
We have installed fans over the beds with a mosquito net canopy that made a guest comment: "Tres Joules! It is surely a bed of heaven!" upon entering their room.
A particular guest wrote something that we feel conveys just how special this little oasis and its inhabitants and environment is:
"To all the wonderful people of Serra Cafema. It took 75 years for me to find what is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Just as importantly, all of the staff were gracious and most caring. The magnificence of Serra Cafema is exemplified by all these fine individuals. There can be no better place to celebrate and what a privilege to have been here and to share a special event with the staff."
Another guest wrote: "Awesome, inspirational, breathtaking - what a perfect oasis! The pristine, unspoilt natural beauty here is an experience not to be missed."
Palmwag Lodge update - November 08 Jump
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Our strong south-westerly summer wind has resulted in the most spectacular sunsets - ironically created with all those dust particles in the air.
Due to late but good rainfall during our last season the Palmwag Concession area of 45 000 km² (the size of Switzerland) still has a lot of grazing for animals. This time last year we were seriously worried about food for the animals, but as you can see in the photograph of the black rhino there is still a lot of ground cover at the moment.
The most exciting event at Palmwag Lodge this month was the visit of the "Old Timers Club" from Europe. Most of us were drooling over the beautiful vehicles and agreed that we would never take them on our gravel roads. Most of them were running well, although there were some tyre problems and minor adjustments that were made in the Palmwag Workshop. We fitted an extra air filter that we dug out of the workshop onto one of the Porsches as the engine struggled to breathe in these dusty conditions.
Palmwag also set a new record this month. The most guests we had for dinner in August this year (72) was exceeded this month we had 76 guests for dinner in one sitting!
-The Palmwag Team-
Ongava Tented Camp update - November 08 Jump
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Charlie, a resident porcupine, has been visiting camp in the evenings, particularly when conditions are dry and food is limted as is currently the case. It is amazing to see this rodent up close, with quills rustling as it moves around.
We've had a pride of 14 lions staying around Ongava Tented Camp for a week this month. The lions are very vocal at night but guests don't mind at all as this is one of the best African sounds to hear.
Our camp waterhole is approximately 15 metres from the main area and many different antelope visit the waterhole continuously - particularly when it is dry and in the hotter parts of the day. The photo of the male waterbuck shows just how close the animals can get at times.
Ongava Tented Camp is hidden on the exclusive Ongava Game Reserve bordering on the western edge of Etosha National Park. Ongava is only 360 km² in size while Etosha is 22 000 km². Although Etosha is certainly worth experiencing for its spectacular scenery and vast open plains teeming with springbok and antelope, Ongava provides the added excitement of tracking rhino on foot and personal encounters with other wildlife like cheetah.
Out on game drives on the reserve, guests have enjoyed seeing lions and our four different groups of rhino that take turns to visit the waterhole every other evening. In the last week of the month we sat watching as a pride of lions tried to surround a rhino calf. Fortunately the mother rhino managed to get the calf away from the lions safely, and we heaved a sigh of relief.
Ongava Literacy Programme
The Etosha area used to be the tribal area of the bushmen tribe (San) known as Hai//om. Most of these people are illiterate and so Ongava Reserve has implemented a Literacy Programme for staff of this tribe who are employed at our camps on the reserve. Lizette Carstens, a qualified teacher, is the tutor and heads up the programme; she follows the United Kingdom reading and writing programme called Jolly Phonics (a systematic, sequential phonics programme designed to teach people to read). A pilot study was implemented so that we could evaluate the resources available and decide on the best educational process, such as the method of training.
Lizette presents her classes twice a week and from 2009 she will implement a much broader programme for all Ongava camps, which includes Ongava Lodge, Little Ongava, Tiervlei (farm management section) and Andersson's Camp.
The pupils of the pilot study were two Hai//om (San) adults, Chicken and Rachel of Ongava Tented Camp, pictured here with their certificates.
Lizette believes that the Literacy Programme is vitally important to develop staff morale and skills and educational levels of our staff which in turn raises the level of service and professionalism to all our precious guests.
Ongava Lodge update - November 08 Jump
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Ongava Game Reserve has several endemic species like striped tree squirrel, dassie rats, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Monteiro's Hornbill, the bizarre White-tailed Shrike and black-faced impala, this last representing the largest population of this endemic sub-species on private land.
Sightings of general game have been a little difficult this month, but sightings of cheetah, rhino and lion have increased. The decrease in sightings of general game is due to the recent rains that we have received resulting in the animals being more dispersed and not visiting their usual water sources.
A game count was held in September, and from the figures, it shows that the number of antelopes on the reserve has dropped; this has been due to the increase in predator numbers on the reserve. The census indicated that the number of lion, cheetah and hyaena have all increased.
From the comments of most of our guests, Ongava Lodge has one of the best views overlooking the ever-surprising waterhole famous for its black rhino sightings.
Ongava Game Reserve has more than 300 bird species of which at least 50 are migratory and only return to this region for breeding during the rainy season - the likes of African Cuckoo, Red-footed Falcon and Abdim's Storks.
Snakes have also been seen especially the distinctive zebra snake or western-barred spitting cobra and Anchieta's dwarf rock python. The rock python was recently seen close to the restaurant where it favours the dolomite kopje on which Ongava Lodge is situated.
The weather varies greatly through the day, from 18 to 38º Celsius, very cool in the morning and evenings and very hot during the afternoons. So far we have received early showers measuring 4 to 10mm on some days and this has brought about new green leaves on the trees.
Our guests are always fascinated and enjoy our nature walks, especially the adrenaline-pumping rhino tracking; this they say is a 'once in a lifetime experience' that they will never forget.
- A five star camp with such a different feel to it. Being right by the waterhole that so many animals visited from early in the day, you were able to watch them from the outside shower, our own deck or the dining area. Overall, EXCELLENT!
- A fantastic way to spend our last days in Namibia on our honeymoon. Brilliant, a dream experience come true.
- Breathtaking, the most fantastic place in Namibia - we just discovered a great little corner of paradise.
- Stunning location, an unusual unforgettable wilderness experience. Excellent place, wonderful people!
Little Ongava update - November 08 Jump
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With the rainy season fast approaching, the earth is becoming vigilant waiting for the first drops of moisture. The mopane trees have already begun sprouting new leaves, transforming Ongava Game Reserve into a paradise, with Southern Masked Weavers already starting to breed, weaving away at their nests and courting any interested females.
Sightings which Little Ongava guests have been fortunate to see include lion prides and lone cheetah either on the hunt or just disappearing into the bush. The lion, cheetah and rhino sightings have certainly increased since last year.
On one particular afternoon Gabriel spotted a black-backed jackal with two suckling pups, probably around a month old. He also had a sighting of lions on a waterbuck kill, but there was hardly anything left of the antelope. Two Purple Rollers also fascinated some guests: the male caught either a locust or grasshopper and flew his catch over to the female sitting close by passing it on to her. A cheetah was then spotted at the staff village drinking from a leaking water pipe.
One evening, hosting dinner outside thanks to the wonderful temperatures, we noticed an unusual shape down at the waterhole: another cheetah! Guests could not believe their luck or their eyes!
We have been doing several night drives which have proved successful with guests always wanting another try after the first night. This is an ideal opportunity to see the nocturnal animals such as small spotted genet, smaller cats and common duikers which are hard to spot during the day. Other possibilities include scrub hares, owls, Spotted Thick-knees and nightjars.
Drives into Etosha National Park have been quieter with the beginning of the rainy season. The big herds of elephant seem to have already migrated to the eastern side of Etosha, where more rain occurs and therefore becomes green before our western side does. We have still enjoyed sightings of the larger, solitary elephant bulls. Leopard were also seen on several occasions in the Park.
On a few occasions with full day excursions into Etosha National Park we have presented a picnic lunch in the Park, normally at Olifantsbad Waterhole. Here Gabriel and Abner would set up their tables for lunch before returning back to camp.
- Attentive staff and wonderful spot to end your Namibian holiday.
- Lions for breakfast and leopards for dessert!
- There are no superlatives in our language to describe our experience at Little Ongava; should have stayed longer.
- A wonderful, friendly camp
- Beautiful accommodation, breathtaking surroundings, fabulous staff and delicious food - what could be better?
Damaraland Camp update - November 08 Jump
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We were once again fortunate enough to see cheetah this month - the guests were so amazed and could not stop talking about them. We also discovered a fresh springbok kill one afternoon and had the perfect opportunity to witness Lappet-faced Vultures feasting on the carcass. A caracal, which we don't see often, was also spotted. Lucky guests!
The elephants are still in the area and currently we enjoy the company of three resident groups. We don't know how long they will still be in the area because, based on their past behaviour and trekking routes, we think they might start moving out of the river areas with the upcoming rainy season. One cow in Oscar's group gave birth a month or so ago bringing the total of baby elephants born this season to eight. One unfortunately died, due to unknown causes.
The weather had been pleasant throughout the month. The highest temperature measured was 38º Celsius and the lowest for the month was 9º. So pack for all eventualities. The rains are upon us again with the prospects of another good rainy season but time will tell. The average wind direction for this month was south-westerly and this resulted in clear and cool evenings perfect for stargazing.
A large focus for us here at Damaraland Camp is the community. CJ B, a teacher from Honolulu Hawaii, who stayed with us recently, donated a box of school books for the children at Bergsig School. Thanks so much! We can report that the books have arrived and a hand-over ceremony is scheduled for next month. Look out for photos of the occasion in our next newsletter.
We had a Vox TV group (a German television channel) in camp this month. They spent a busy two days filming the community, landscapes and Damaraland wildlife. The elephants thankfully cooperated well and gave a talented performance.
Some guests celebrated their 15th stay at a Wilderness Safaris camp at Damaraland Camp. What an honour to host such important guests! Seeing rhino and elephant were highlights for others while visits to the Twyfelfontein rock engravings proved popular too.
Two quotes from our guest book
"A fantastic two night stay. The location speaks for itself but the staff made it very special."
"A place where you don't have to speak much; Just listen to the distinct absence of noise, enjoy the views and relax in the comfort of a exclusive camp."
Some of you may know Raymond, who has been guiding at Damaraland Camp since 2003. He started with Wilderness Safaris in 1997 as a waiter at Ongava Tented Camp. A successful day for him is when his guests are happy and smiling after an outing. He recently completed a course in rhino tracking and feels it adds another dimension to his guiding career.
Little Kulala Camp update - November 08 Jump
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Sosussvlei is known for its landscapes, but when it comes to wildlife, it is rather the small things that count and so it was with great excitement that we observed a very different kind of kill recently.
We watched a very opportunistic bibron's gecko stalking an insect that was wandering around on the floor. The gecko stalked the furry, soon-to-be-dinner bug and caught it. The gecko bit off a little more than it could chew though.
A Black-headed Heron is now getting settled in quite nicely here at Little Kulala. We normally see it in the early mornings with the other birds sitting on top of the camel thorn tree with the immense Sociable Weaver nest. We have noticed that sometimes it sits on top of the weavers' nest pecking away on what we think were probably insects.
Sarah Omura visited us to do a Children in the Wilderness workshop and while she was busy having her afternoon tea, she noticed the heron at the waterhole, with a sociable weaver in its beak. This heron species is often found way from water and has been recorded to feed on other small birds but mostly on insects, reptiles, arachnids and even golden moles!
With the abundance of mice there is plenty of food for snakes at the moment. We had had an empty day (no guests in camp) on Saturday the 15th and the staff had a soccer match against some neighbouring lodges. We stayed behind and as Johan was walking out of the courtyard I noticed he did a bit of dance and went to investigate. Quite breathlessly he said: "There is a huge Cape cobra between the gas bottles!" I ran home for the camera and he started looking for it. So, carefully perched on a fuel drum, I took the pictures and he successfully caught the snake. It was a difficult place where our friend decided to hide away because of the weight of the full gas bottles and not knowing where it will be popping out. We normally leave the snakes be but because it is close to the lapa where guests and staff walk around, the decision was made to catch it and then released it far away from camp which we did. After the excitement, we went for an afternoon drive to the Canyon and released it on the way there.
Not one day is the same at this time of the year; with some cloud cover, the sunsets over the desert are absolutely spectacular. Every night is different with the sky changing constantly and just when you think: this is amazing, it changes again and you are caught unawares!
On the afternoon of the 25th of November, we noticed a big dust cloud moving down the Tsauchab River and while we are still admiring this, the cloud was on top of us. It was unlike anything I have seen here in over a year. The wind howled, completely obscuring the dunes and brought enough sand inside that anybody that wanted to climb Dune 45 could do that just inside the lapa. We swept but more sand came in. Normally a storm like this precedes a big rainstorm but only a few drops came down; the wind kept blowing until early in the morning.
We woke up to cloudy skies on the 26th and plenty of butterflies - mostly brown-veined whites. It was a sight to behold as they tried to scramble for the few flowers that came out during the night.
Governors' Camp update - November 08 Jump
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The month of November brought warmer days (averaging 18ºC in the morning and 28 ºC at mid day). Rainstorms arrived in the second half of the month and on the evening of the 30th a large storm swept in with strong winds, heavy rain and hail. Sadly the storm brought a number of African Green heart trees crashing down. The savannah grasses and in particular the red oat grass are thriving after the rains and have a flush of new green growth and some spectacular wild flowers, like the orange Lion's Ear (Leonotis nepetifolia), the delicate Crossandra Subacaulis, the beautiful Stathmostelma Rhacodes and the magnificent Fireball Lily (Scadoxus). November also saw the arrival of many migrant bird species from Europe, and we had wonderful sightings, of common red shank, common green shanks and black winged stilts.
Crossandra Subacaulis & Fireball Lily
The resident herds of Topi and Coke's Hartebeest continued to calve throughout November. Many mothers with very young calves (some only a few hours old) were seen out in the grasslands and there are still many females yet to calve down. Lots of other plains game have young at the moment. There are warthogs with little piglets that are a month old (sows
lose piglets quite easily due to temperature changes and predation and there is a mortality rate of up to 45% before they are six month old). The resident breeding herd of Cape buffalo has many young calves and is spending a lot of time in the Bila Shaka grassland areas where the red oat and hyparrhenia grasses (heavy stem) grow and make up their ideal grazing fodder. Defassa waterbuck in breeding herds with 3-6 month old calves have been frequenting the marsh grasslands. On the ridges female Spotted Hyena have very young cubs in their dens some of which are weeks old and are still black in colour and towards Paradise plain a family of silver-backed jackals with seven pups has been exploring the plains.
The elephant families have been out in the grasslands feeding, and many bulls have been congregating with some of the larger males coming into Musth (readiness for mating with high levels of testosterone). The African Green heart trees (Diospyros) are continuing to fruit, drawing Olive Baboons in large troops to the forest fringes. Large handsome Blue monkeys, which are more arboreal than the Baboon, were seen and heard in the woodlands around camp. Within the woodlands and on the adjacent grasslands there are many Masai Giraffe in large herds with the younger males sparring by 'necking' for mating rights. A few common Zebra and wildebeest (with 6-7 month old calves) remain on Paradise and Topi Plains, the large herds having travelled to the Serengeti. Those that remain have been filing back to the east towards the open plains near the Loita Hills.
On the edges of the marsh, Serval cats and in particular a rather tenacious male have been hunting.
The Bila Shaka/Marsh lion pride of three males, seven breeding females and their nine cubs of varying ages have been staying close to our airstrip (much to the delight of arriving and departing guests) and the Musiara Marsh area where they have been hunting regularly.
The Bila shaka sisters and cubs.
The female cheetah Shakira is doing well, we are delighted to report that her three remaining cubs (four months old) are all healthy, and Shakira is successfully hunting Thomson Gazelles and their fawns on a regular basis and sharing them with her cubs.
The coalition of three nomadic male cheetah is also thriving. They have been hunting successfully and were seen last week with a young wildebeest calf which they had killed and were eating without interference from other predators like the spotted hyena who regularly take their kills from them.
For months now we have ben reporting on two female cheetah both of whom were pregnant, and each has now given birth to four cubs. For ease of identification the females have been named Malaika ("Angel" in Kiswahili) and Alama ("Spot"). Tragedy struck towards the end of the month when Malaika lost two of her cubs. We believe they may have been trampled by elephant. Malaika has proved she is an effective hunter, feeding on Thomson Gazelles and their fawns. Sadly we have noticed that Alama has sustained an injury to her lower jaw. She has been struggling to hold and suffocate larger prey species after the hunt, and has been unable to kill and eat for a number of days. We will continue to monitor her progress and report on how she is faring. We work closely with and support the Masai Mara Game Reserve Rangers specifically with regards to cheetah conservation and offer logistical support and cheetah monitoring within our area.
Kijana the young male leopard has been frequenting the forests on the fringes of the Marsh and another young female has been making her presence felt closer to the River.
Back in camp the flowering bushes on the banks of the Mara River have attracted many colourful butterflies such as the Grass Yellow, the Scarlett Tip and the magnificent Green-Patch Swallowtail.
We hope to share the magic of our corner of the Mara with you sometime soon.
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